Friday, May 27, 2016

Beyond burgers at The Counter

Nadine Kam photos
Korean BBQ steak fills one of the new sandwiches at The Counter, and it is da bomb!

If you haven't been to The Counter Custom Burgers in a while, it may be time for another visit. The Kahala Mall restaurant specializing in create-your-own burgers has launched a new menu that includes a handful of options to the beef burger, just because many diners want a little more variety in their lives.

New protein options on the create-your-own burger menu include a jumbo lump crabcake, Southern fried chicken and Korean BBQ grilled skirt steak that's a new favorite of mine. In chef Matthew Lindblom's hands, it's true to local expectations. Order these your way with your pick of dozens of toppings and sauces, or order it their way as described in the photos below.

Also new are:

WTF ("Why the Face" sandwich): A ground turkey patty is topped with provolone, applewood-smoked bacon, pickles, and house mustard on a Hawaiian bun, accompanied by salt &and vinegar kettle chips. Currently $12.50.

Crab Encounter: a jumbo lump crab cake sits atop a salad of organic mixed greens, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, applewood-smoked bacon, scallions and chopped egg, with honey dijon dressing.

Loaded tots:
The Counter's loaded tots are rolled in pimento cheese with bits of applewood smoked bacon, sprinkled with green onions and served with buttermilk ranch sauce.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Arancino marking third anniversary at The Kahala

Nadine Kam photos
Arancino at The Kahala adds a charcuterie platter, Affetato Misto, to its new menu marking its third anniversary at The Kahala Hotel, to be offered beginning June 1. The platter features bresaola, coppa, prosciutto di Parma, salamino piccante, mortadella, Parmigiano Reggianno and coccoli, or bread dough fritters.

Arancino at The Kahala is entering its third year with the introduction of a new menu beginning June 1. The menu includes new dishes and three degustation menus, priced at $60, $90 and $120. Prices with wine pairings are $84, $123 and $160.

The $60 Menu Selezione starts with a lobster bisque, followed by a choice of Caesar or caprese salad, then a choice of one of three primi dishes: Tagliolini al Ricci di Mare, uni pasta with a white wine-garlic-tomato cream sauce; wagyu Bolognese with housemade pappardelle; or housemade orecchiette with sun-dried tomatoes, broccolini and garlic olive oil.

On the high end, the menu features caviar, followed by crudités and bagna cauda, carpaccio di manzo of A5 Miyazaki wagyu, and delectable raviolone alla fonduta con tartufo fresco, a decadent ravioli with fontina and a center of creamy egg yolk, topped with truffles and a light butter sauce. These dishes are followed by grilled branzino and sous vide beef tenderloin with foie gras and truffle mashed potatoes, fried maitake and truffle sauce.

I swoon over chef Hamamoto's ravioli with creamy egg yolk center, fontina, truffles and butter sauce. Heaven on a plate!

The restaurant had its soft opening at The Kahala Hotel in 2013, followed by official opening date June 18. It initially offered a luxury tasting menu experience that evolved to include several a la carte dishes to give guests much more variety over repeat visits.

In addition to the set menus, the menu now features 34 a la carte selections ranging from pastas to pizzas, plus satisfying entrées ranging from the seafood stew caciucco, to sous vide beef tenderloin, Colorado lamb, A5 Miyazaki wagyu sirloin and pork loin.

The wagyu as served here is exceptional, but I've always had it cooked, never as carpaccio, and during a media tasting I basically inhaled the carpaccio di manzo. Buttery soft, the raw wagyu nearly melts on the tongue. A must for any visit.

Among the stars of the new offerings is the salt-crusted whole branzino for two. For $58, the fish is presented in its salt crust at the table, where it is cut open and the fish served in the form of two fillets accompanied by rosemary potatoes, lemon and herb topping.

And a charcuterie platter of Affetato Misto (at top of page) manages to be a picture- and palate-perfect intro for any meal.
Arancino at The Kahala is at The Kahala Hotel, 5000 Kahala Ave. Call 380-4400.

Here's a look at more dishes on the new menu:

Carpaccio di Manzo comprises thin-sliced raw Miyazaki wagyu topped with shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, arugula and olive oil-lemon dressing.

Trofie al Pesto Genovese combines the housemade twisted pasta with slices of potato, haricots verts and Nalo Farms basil pesto.

Baked Pesce al Sale, a salt-crusted whole branzino, is presented at the table before being opened and individually plated.

Chef Daisuke Hamamoto presents a serving of the moist and tender branzino, served with rosemary potatoes, herb topping and lemon.

Dessert of a passionfruit-mascarpone cheesecake is topped with citrus sorbetto and candy brittle with accents of silver leaf.

Another view of dessert that reminded me of a kokeshi doll.
Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage in print in Wednesday's Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

One-woman show at Sara's Cafe

Nadine Kam photos
Chili pepper lovers can test their endurance with Sara's Cafe's spicy fried chicken wings. The bits of red and yellow are Thai chilis and their seeds in a honeyed shell. Don't even try this if you can't drink in something as mild as Sriracha.

Korean women have a reputation for toughness, and some prove it by being masters of their domain in the restaurant biz. It's a difficult enterprise even when many hands are involved, yet these strong women are willing to go it alone.

Those who miss the Angry Korean Lady behind Ah-Lang, who's now on hiatus, might try heading to Sara's Cafe. There, Sara Kim is similarly a one-woman act, doing all the cooking, waitressing and cleanup. (Now that she knows my newspaper column is coming out, she may call on some extra hands and see how it goes.)

Sara Kim rules the kitchen.

But, unlike Angry Korean Lady, Kim is quite the opposite, doing her best to be accommodating. If she seems to ignore you when you walk in, it's just because she's juggling dozens of other details. It's not only in-house customers who need tending. There are also phone and take-out orders to deal with.

Their cooking styles also differ, with Kim providing more casual, simple home-style Korean dishes, along with the comfort of knowing you won't get yelled at. Whew!
Sara's Cafe is at 1551 S Beretania St., on the ground level of the Kualana Hale senior housing building. Call 955-1353. Hours are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, 5 to 10 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, and 5 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Look for these street signs on Beretania Street, on the ground level of the Kualana Hale senior housing building.

The living room ambience has the feel of being at your aunty's house.


Here are my top three dishes. Keep in mind that my personal biases have no bearing on these choices that I think best reflect the restaurant's strengths. For instance, I love Korean spicy pork, but it's not a dish that defines this restaurant:

No. 1
The spicy fried chicken wings at the top of the page. Sorry some of you will not be able to withstand the heat.

No. 2
(Tie) Depending on your preference for seafood or veggies, a soft egg-y texture, or crisp flour-based pancake.

Among Sara's specialties are her pajeon, scallion pancakes, including this seafood version. Killer with accompanying sauce of vinegar, shoyu, Thai chilies and pickled onions.

In contrast to the egg-y seafood pajeon, a kim chee pancake had a beautiful crisp finish.

No. 3

Sara's kalbi looks like typical teriyaki-style shortribs, but the sauce is Korean, with shoyu and plenty of chopped onions lending natural sweetness to the sauce.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Titus Chan still a booster for Chinese cuisine

Nadine Kam photos
Lobster with mochi rice steamed a lotus leaf bowl was among the highlights of a dinner presented at Jade Dynasty by hosts Titus Chan and Kimo Wong.

Once an educator, always an educator. People 40 and older may remember Titus Chan as one of the original television chefs, right up there with "The French Chef" Julia Child, and "The Galloping Gourmet" Graham Kerr.

But few know Chan was a math instructor before finding TV stardom in 1972, when "Cooking the Chan-ese Way" debuted on KHET, followed by a national PBS release in 1973, introducing the art of Chinese cooking to 200 public television stations across the United States.

It was a combination of ease with instruction and being in front of the cameras, as well as his knowledge of Chinese cooking that got him the gig, and more than 40 years after starting to educate people in the "Chan-ese" way of cooking, he's still a proponent of learning more about Chinese cuisine.

One of the origiinal celebrity TV chefs, Titus Chan.

A frequenter of Chinese restaurants, he says he feels he hasn't done his job when he sees people going to the restaurants and ordering the same old, like beef broccoli and sweet-sour pork, when Chinese fare has evolved so much over the decades.

To prove his point, he teamed up with Kimo Wong to host a nine-course dinner at Jade Dynasty Restaurant, showcasing options beyond beef broccoli, in hope that of encouraging people to step outside their comfort zone and perhaps try one new dish at a time.

Now that it's graduation season, most of these festive dishes can be prepared with 24 hours notice.

In addition, the restaurant in the fourth-level Ho'okipa Terrace offers dim sum offerings during the day, mirroring the latest innovations in Hong Kong and China. Call 947-8818 for reservations or information.

The big reveal for the the lobster on mochi rice:

Jade Dynasty owners Alan and Sylvia Ho with Bank of Hawaii VP Kimo Wong and Titus Chan.

The first course of crisp, juicy pork in egg crepes, and garlic-marinated cucumbers (also plated below), arrived on this lighted vessel.

Steamed whole wintermelon soup arrived looking like a flower in bloom or burst of fireworks, with the rim of the melon lined with crab meat.
A baked Pacific oyster was topped with shrimp, scallop, spinach and a Portuguese-style curry sauce.
Crispy Peking duck skin and bun.

The duck meat was presented in lettuce cups.

Sweet, tea-smoked tiger prawns was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.

Braised pork ribs were presented for viewing before being taken back to the kitchen for shredding for individually portioned buns, below.

Housemade silken tofu was ladled into bowls with ginger nectar for dessert.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her coverage is in print on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

First course: Mahina & Sun's in the Surfjack Hotel

Nadine Kam photos
Deep-fried whole snapper, and salads of root vegetables and pohole ferns are part of the Family Feast at Mahina & Sun's.

Following a zombie apocalypse and cut off from the rest of the world, what would we eat?

If you envision such a future, sustainability makes perfect sense. I'm not saying Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero are thinking in those bleak terms, but with their latest restaurant, Mahina & Sun's, I think they have the opposite in mind—a bright sunny future in which people awaken to caring for the planet and nurturing their bodies in a single move, by choosing foods both healthful and sustainable.

The two have been preaching this concept for about a decade, but takes it even further with Mahina & Sun's, making sustainable seem more palatable than ever.

A "snack" of Sweet Land Farms goat cheese beignets with beet ketchup and arugula.

It all starts with teaching us to love such basics as 'ulu and ugly root vegetables, hairy roots, green tops and all. There was a time I would have lopped off these unsightly ends, but here, they're a joy to pop whole into the mouth, and I was surprised to see my meat-loving friends reaching continuously for the bowls of vegetables and 'ulu.

Kenney would be the first to tell you he could do more, noting that it is still difficult to go without imported oils, beans, grains, Japanese products, pastas and spices, as well as most bar content.

Satisfying kahala (amberjack) crudo with preserved lemon, toasted inamona, purslane and brown butter vinaigrette.

But moreso than most outlets, I see a commitment, not only to the locally grown, but foods basic to the earliest Hawaii settlers. Most chefs, and diners, would find that limiting, but Mahina & Sun's is doing its best to win over a 21st century audience accustomed to getting any foodstuff they want, sourced from all parts of the planet.

It won't be an easy feat bringing diners back to the homestead, but they're committed to trying.

The setting, poolside at the equally new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club.

Mahina & Sun's is in the new Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club at 412 Lewers St. Call 924-5810.

Mild, clean-tasting Kualoa Ranch oysters are simply graced with chili pepper water, succulents and slices of kalamansi.

 It doesn't get much more local than pa'i 'ai topped with akule. Not for those who don't like fishy fish.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Eating Dubai 2: Call me nomad, dining Bedouin-style

Nadine Kam photos
There's a reason I stayed covered up in the desert. The fine sand gets everywhere.

As a wayward Sagittarian, I often leap before I look, and in signing up for a desert safari in Dubai, I didn't quite know what I was getting into, as in, "How we gonna get there?"

I knew we were in trouble when our driver picked us up in a Toyota Land Cruiser fitted with roll bars, and I noticed that all of the overhead grips (the ones that help passengers lift themselves into tall vehicles) in the cruiser were broken, except the driver's. I guessed that the damage came via previous passengers holding on for dear life.

It was all going fine as long as we were on asphalt, and not knowing the desert terrain, I just assumed it might be a bumpy ride. Pretty soon we came to the end of the paved road, and what ensued was a sport called dune bashing, off-roading on sand dunes that involved drifting, sliding down and surfing the slopes in our oversized vehicles as we screamed our way through the desert. Pictures and video don't do the natural roller coaster experience justice.

Camels are quite goofy looking. A bunch of them were roaming the Lahbab desert, and for some reason, my travel companions thought we were going to eat camel for dinner.

There was order to the huge caravan of Land Cruisers because everyone had to be going in the same direction. What we didn't want was someone coming in from the opposite direction, rising to top of the same blind peaks, with the potential for a head-on collisions. Check out the video walkthrough on this dune-bashing game link for an idea of what it feels like: Obviously I could not shoot my own video or photos because I was hanging on for dear life.

Check out our experience here:

Video link

I checked out other YouTube videos and note that the screams are the same in any language:

Video link

Video link


Safaris Arabia photo
Depending on which company you choose, the cost of the desert safari ranges from about $40 USD for the dune-bashing experience, to about $54 for the ride plus dinner.

I felt so much better when the ride was over and we could relax on the Persian rugs that lined the ground of a Bedouin-style camp, with low tables for dining.

The English word "Bedouin" is the derived from the Arabic words "bedu," referring to those who live in the open desert, and "Badawiyin," a generic name for a desert dweller.

Although the Bedouin population—from the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt to the Sahara Desert of North Africa—numbers about 4 million today, only about 5 percent of Bedouins still live as nomads in all of the Middle East because it is becoming increasingly dangerous to do so.

In that moment, it was so beautiful being under the open sky, that I could easily see the attraction to the desert lifestyle. I would have loved to spend the night there. Throughout Dubai, I could see a fascination with the night sky in the architecture and murals. Even on our Emirates flight, there was enough empty seats on the way over so that I could lie down and stretch out, and looking up, the ceiling was full of tiny twinkling lights, like the night sky.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eating Dubai 1: Puffy pitas at Wafi Gourmet

Nadine Kam photos
A colorful array of vegetable and meat kebabs on display at Wafi Gourmet in Dubai Mall, which specializes in Lebanese cuisine.

DUBAI, U.A.E. — While in Dubai, I thought we would certainly be eating at Saudi or Emirati restaurants, but somehow, we always ended up eating Lebanese or Indian cuisine, at malls and hotels, no less.

What gives? I put the question to one of the Dubai chefs and he said it's because the Saudis have no real cuisine, and it's only been in the last year that three Emirati restaurants have opened, in a city of 2.5 million people.

Well that was a shocking statement. In my food-centric world, every culture has a cuisine that speaks to its soul and is a point of pride to its people, such that you can't talk stink about anyone's food.

Before reaching the tables at Wafi Gourmet, we were tempted with all kinds of marketplace treats, such as a variety of olives, sweets, pastries, and below, pistachios, dried fruit and almonds.

But, it made sense. People of Saudi Arabia were descended from nomadic sheep- and goat-herding tribes, who could only eat what they could carry, such as dates, nuts, figs, flat bread called fatir, and spices that flavored meat grilled in the desert.

Dubai, on the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea, started as a fishing village, making grilled fish a simple, satisfying meal.

Also, the nation's Islamic laws include restrictions against eating pork and drinking alcohol, and it's only in places where visitors congregate—malls and hotels—that alcohol is allowed.

I've never come across fresh pita like this in Hawaii. Sadly, the ones we get are already stale. They're light and puffy when fresh, and deflate when left sitting.

I wasn't complaining. Though the names of dishes are different, food in the region is similar from country to country, and Middle Eastern cuisine has always been one of my favorites, though it's sad to say, coming from Hawaii, I never knew what it was like to enjoy a warm, pillowy fresh pita. More times than not, you have to go to straight to the source.

The hummus, or hommos in their spelling, at Wafi Gourmet had a whipped, light texture and tasted less like chickpeas than we have here. Instead the chickpeas sit inside the bowl of hummus. The cost was $33 dirhams, roughly $10 USD.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

'Ai Love Nalo feeds body & soul

Nadine Kam photos
The Medi Bowl, a Mediterranean combo comprising kalo falafel, roasted baba ganoush, beet hummus, millet tabouleh and greens with an herb tahini sauce, is one of my favorite dishes on the menu at 'Ai Love Nalo. The colors are a feast for the eyes.

Because my foodie diet is so rich in protein and fat, I'm happy for those occasions when I can escape to such basics as fresh veggies and hummus, staples in every food writer's/blogger's kitchen for those detoxing down times when we're not at a restaurant.

I once suggested we feed hummus to the hungry instead of stocking up on salt-, sugar- and preservative-laden canned goods during food drives, only to be told the hungry wouldn't eat it. Critics of my plan had a point. As much as I love hummus and a good salad, I don't crave them the way I crave fried chicken, pork ribs, or lately, Fat Boy ice cream sandwiches.

Humans have a natural affinity for fats, sweets and carbs. You can read up on some of the science here:

You can opt to sit indoors, or, if you don't like being confined by four walls, bring a mat to sit outside in the "Garden of Eatin'," pictured below.

Yet, immediately after visiting 'Ai Love Nalo, I found myself craving the casual vegan restaurant's tofu poke bowl, with limu providing all the ocean essence I needed, and avocado providing body and richness, so I didn't miss the fattiness and texture of fish at all.

I also crave the Medi Bowl ($11), a Mediterranean-inspired combo of kalo falafel served over greens with an herb tahini sauce, millet tabouleh, and small portions of local eggplant baba ganoush and beet hummus with all the flavor of chickpea hummus with a tinge of beet.

It's no wonder the restaurant tends to be packed on the weekends, when people are most likely to have the time to make the drive to Waimanalo. It's well worth the trip.

Dishes here are fresh and delicious, and there is many a dessert lover who will rejoice over its non-dairy, all-natural dessert of Outta This Swirled soft-serve sundae. Replacing the ice cream is a mixture of coconut milk and bananas, coated with a no-added sugar "Cacao Magic" shell.

A meal here is a treat for the body, soul and senses from beginning to end.
'Ai Love Nalo is at 41-1025 Kalanianaole Highway. Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. Online at There's no phone.

The tofu poke is delicious, available in a generous poke bowl that starts with a choice of brown rice, millet or a half/half combination, with limu, onion, avocado, green onion, furikake and greens. Recently, $11.

The Kaukau Lu'au plate is 'Ai Love Nalo's healthier remake of the Hawaiian plate lunch. Local Okinawan potato and an assortment of local veggies are baked in creamy coconut lu’au, and served with your choice of poi, brown rice or millet, with a sampling of tofu poke and a side salad. Recently $11.

Roasted veggies and avocado are piled onto a veggie sandwich, but the whole-wheat vegan bun didn't hold up well to the ingredients and became mushy quickly.

Dessert lovers will rejoice over 'Ai Love Nalo's vegan, guilt-free soft serve, made with bananas and coconut milk, with cocoa powder shell that mimics chocolate. It's presented here with sliced bananas, papaya and housemade granola.

There are several smoothies on the menu. This is the Lime in Da Coconut, made with coconut milk, key limes, avocado, honey and bananas, and topped with coconut flakes.


Before leaving, head next door to visit the Waimanalo Market Co-op. There, you'll find fresh produce, 'Nalo-related merchandise including jewelry, clothing and tote bags, and a couple of food purveyors. The co-op is at 41-1029 Kalanianaole Highway, open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays to Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays. Call 690-7607.

Produce at the Waimanalo Market Co-op is sourced from the area ahupua'a.

If you think you've found the island's best poke, better remake your list if you haven't tried poke from Hale I‘a Hawaii. Lance and Lucie Kaanoi's poke is exceptionally fresh and delicious, making both their Korean-style, and ogo and ahi poke must-trys on your next visit to Waimanalo. They also serve poke hoagies.

Nadine Kam is Style Editor and staff restaurant critic at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser; her food coverage is in print in Wednesdays'a Crave section. Contact her via email at and follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Rebel Mouse.